Moderacy Wins Rouhani Election, But…
Rouhani probably always knew that convincing the West would not be his biggest battle.
The Western world had grown steadily tired of Ahmadinejad’s antics and his never ending tirades, accusations and paranoia. The people he surrounded himself seemed to echo his “Satan America” rhetoric and Khamenei himself mirrored Ahmadinejad’s outlook. The murkiness surrounding Tehran’s nuclear aspirations became the symbol of Iran’s isolation and Iran became more distant as the shackles of sanctions tightened. Throughout all this, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad continued to portrayed a “business as usual” approach with no sign of compromise and economic priorities that exemplified just how little the welfare of the Iranian people really meant compared to the welfare of the hardliners views and pockets.
And then, the Iranian people reacted to Rouhani’s call for change and suddenly, the world met a leader who was ready to revamp Iran’s foreign policy and loosen the shackles of sanctions. But much more than that, we met a leader who seemed moderate and was ready to listen and to reprioritize.
Suddenly, a solution seemed possible and the P5+1 leaders shifted into overdrive in order in their efforts to rethink their attitudes on Iran and create a better future.
Unfortunately, Rouhani’s newfound friends in the West seemed suspicious to his compatriots, those same hardliners that profited from Ahmadinejad’s terms in office and now, they are hitting back…hard.
Rouhani Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Rouhani seems to be in a Catch 22 position: if he gives in too little to the West, he won’t be able to realize the change that he was elected to bring about. If he gives in too much to the West, he might find himself ousted and under house arrest with all the other leaders who dared to fight the hardliners and lost. He is probably hoping that, unlike Yossarian in Catch 22, he might be able to find the golden path to appease everyone.
So while the world looks on to Rouhani for an answer, Rouhani is looking back at Khamenei to find out just how sincere is the Supreme Leader’s backing. Khamenei, for his part is content to play both sides for now – he has formally backed Rouhani’s foreign policy while at the same time spewing anti-Western rhetoric and allowing his advisors to pressure Rouhani publicly.
As the nuclear deal comes closer to fruition, the hardliner pressure mounts and unfortunately for Rouhani, the people’s backing is eroding as the Iranian economy struggles to stay above water. Even worse, Rouhani’s expectations for a rapid economic turn-around seem naïve today: the weak economy he inherited is actually worsening and his disillusioned voters’ patience is wearing thin.
Rouhani: Victim Or Player?
What makes things worse is that no one really knows to this day if Rouhani isn’t playing his part in Khamenei’s game plan or if he is a victim of his will to change. Perhaps his only goal is to relieved Iran of sanctions and gain time for the final round in which Tehran suddenly sprints in break-out mode.
Why is Rouhani so reticent to deal with problems of human rights in Iran knowing that this is a key issue for the West? Why did he choose Aboutalebi as UN ambassador knowing that he was on the US’s blacklist? Why does he not accept the West’s demands to cut back on the suspect nuclear program knowing that “pausing” the program is not enough?
Are these examples of his efforts to appease the hardliners or is he playing a sort of “good cop, bad cop” game with the West in order to get a better deal?
Time will tell…